Blue laws and fuel consumption

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Sunday, January 04, 2009
By Yokota Fritz

The most restrictive blue laws in North America in Bergen County, New Jersey came about to limit traffic congestion caused by massive retail development. Can Blue Laws be used today to manage traffic, conserve fuel, moderate fuel price increases, and help air quality?

Blue laws restrict commercial activity on Sundays. Historically, these laws have been used to encourage religious observation of Sunday as a Christian day of worship.

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Although most states and localities no longer observe blue laws, a handful remain. Sixteen states currently prohibit or restrict car sales on Sundays -- and the car dealerships like the restriction. When Colorado tried to lift the car sales blue laws a few years ago, car dealerships fought to keep the laws on the books because the law keeps costs down for all dealerships. Oregon car sellers are now lobbying for a similar law.

Bergen County, New Jersey has the most restrictive blue laws in the United States. When the Bergen Mall and Garden State Plaza were under construction in the late 1950s, fears that the two large new malls would aggravate already severe highway congestion motivated Bergen County residents to forbid almost all selling on Sundays, with the borough of Paramus, New Jersey within Bergen County forbidding all forms of "worldly employment" because "the physical, intellectual and moral good of the community requires a periodic day of rest from labor."

American visitors to Europe learn fairly quickly that shopping is limited in the evenings and the weekends, especially in Germany with the Ladenschlussgesetz Shop Closing Law.

While I love the convenience in American of buying almost anything at almost any hour of the day or night, closing the shops one day each week would probably reduce traffic and fuel consumption significantly, while also improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. During World War I, automobile dealers supported a ban on gas sales on Sundays to conserve fuel.

There are some problems to my simple idea: tourist destinations and amusements that depend on weekend traffic would perhaps suffer. Observant Jews and Sabbatarian Christians are also impacted, because most of Saturday is already off limits for them.

The various Ciclovia style street closings occur on Sundays, so perhaps vendors that enable non-automotive access to their shops can be exempted. Note also that Bergen County with the most restrictive blue laws in America also boasts the highest retail sales in the United States.

What do you think? Can something like a universal shop closing law be successfully used to conserve fuel (making fuel less expensive for everybody) while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving general air quality, reducing transportation expenses for most Americans and helping the economy?

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I like giving people the freedom to do as they choose, including shopping on Sunday if they choose. I also think it is good to support companies that put people over profits, making sure their people have at least one day out of seven to focus on something besides work.
Some critics of blue laws blame God, and Christianity, for keeping people from being able to make a profit. But as you point out, car dealerships, and car salesmen in particular, love being closed on Sunday, because competition and greed would force dealerships to open on Sunday. Also, people shopping for cars often like to walk the lot on Sundays, without being bothered by sales people.
Yes, it is true that the Bible says that we are to remember the Sabbath, and keep it set aside, although the Sabbath is on Saturday. I see great wisdom in that, although I don't always practice it. People need a day to relax, unwind, regain focus and perspective, and leave the car parked in the garage.
Great post.
But isn't in that same book stories about freewill. If you can't make a choice, how can you prove how pious you are.
It's impossible to put this genie back in the bottle, Fritz, because it ultimately revolves around economics. If my town decided to outlaw all retail sales on Sunday, you can be certain that a neighboring town would pick up the additional sales and the additional sales taxes. If similar legislation to restrict retail sales were proposed at the state level, you can be certain that business interests would smack it down in short order.

It comes down to individual choice. There are some businesses I will not patronize at any time of the week, and in general, I prefer to have quiet Sundays at home rather than go out shopping.
Why do you think it will save fuel or decrease congestion?
People who need to buy things will now have 6 (or 5) days instead of 7 (or 6) to do that. So the traffic/hassle/crowing/congestion on those days will be higher.
(Visit a grocery store closed Christmas day on Christmas Eve...)
I found it amusing when I was in Bergen county that I could buy a beer but not a book. Personally, with a M-F work schedule, Sunday is usually the day I do all my shopping (Saturday tends to be best for activities). I'd rather see shops closed on Monday ;).

In Virginia, two of the malls I go to have DC metro access and they're trying to get funding for extending it to the biggest mall in the region. I actually find the public transit preferable to driving and trying to deal with parking.
What about temporarily closed lanes or streets?
Since roads are valuable space it would be beneficial for the community to give space back to them when traffic is low. So a blue law could open lanes as enlarged pavement café or playing ground for skaters and children...
Where I went to college, alcohol sales were banned on Sundays. So, we would hop in the car and drive two hours to Slidell, Louisiana (the nearest place without such laws), where there was a drive-in daquiri place and a variety of package stores. The alcohol sale ban encouraged us to spend a fortune on gasoline and also fostered a "drinkin' and drivin'" situation. How is that good for anyone?
Ugg. Ban brick-&-mortar commerce at any time and you push money onto the net. I'm all in favor of that.

Banning sales for religious reasons? Guess what.. my $ is gonna be spent on the best deal that I find at the time that I'm ready to spend. If you are closed because a moldy piece of paper told you to shut your doors, well then you FAIL...

No religion=world peace
A "drive-in" Daquiri place? Next thing you know they'll invent a "drive-thru" movie theatre!

Or is my snark unwarranted, was it really a drive in Daquiri place with rollerskating waitresses and the like? My inclination is that it was "drive-thru" like McDonalds. There is a Mexican joint in Longmont Colorado called "Deli-cioso" which used to be a liquor store with a drive-thru window! Ah the good old days.

Then of course there was the fact that Coors used to not ship across the Mississippi River. I knew more than a few Illinois residents who would drive to Iowa to purchase that swill.
Blue Laws were enacted for all the wrong reasons. I really think the country and the world are ready to begin to save ourselves. Many communities have begun to institute green ways of life and technologies, mostly in the water conservation area.

Doing the things in the name of religion is a slow road to failure. Doing things in the name of the environment is a wave that everyone can ride, and a growing number of people are willing to hop on. They finally realize that it's now life or death for our planet, and for us.
In Richmond, VA Ukrop's is *very* proud of having the biggest grocery market share despite being closed on Sunday and not selling alcohol. Yes, being a liquor store in the mall with them is a *real* good option. And yes, they do sell tobacco products. They are also where we liked our students to be working because they valued education and would give students fewer hours during exam week.
I think it depends on the culture. I wonder if it could be sold to the public in the right package, or if it would rank up there with "Whip Inflation Now." I think the "car-free streets" parties would make more sense in densely populated areas.
I wrote this post up after a brainstorming session and this was one of the wacky blue sky ideas that emerged. Ed is correct this is probably impossible unless a true national emergency motivates people to try crazy ideas like this.

I'm a "religious" person, but I don't present this for religious reasons -- as I noted, I like the convenience of dropping in to stores on Sundays. I agree with noshakespeare that enforced piety is no piety at all.

Midnight: This blue sky proposal is presented as an environmenal benefit, not a religious one. It would inconvenience some religious groups (Jews, primarily, who depend on Sunday for their weekend shopping).

But since a few people have brought up religion: my understanding is that the Sabbath is a prototype or foreshadowing of the rest or peace received in salvation. The Christian Sabbath is not Sunday worship, but the 24/7 abiding Spirit of Christ.

Anon 1:29 makes a good point that trips "conserved" on Sunday would just be made another day, and I'm a big believer in the Law of Unintended Consequences. tri.basset & GhostRider notes two important consequences: online shopping is still available and people could just drive to another jurisdiction.

Thanks for all of your thoughts on this. Again, this was just a silly brainstorm on my part but maybe other ideas can be generated? Is there value in proposing a break from the constant commerce we're inundated with?
As someone that worked in Bergen County for two years, and commuted from New York, I got to see that the traffic on the roads in Bergen County was not altered on Sundays, other than the mall parking lots were empty.

The shoppers went to Rockland, Union or Passaic counties if they needed to get something that wasn't available, driving further than if the local stores were open.
I had to think about this one a bit, but I'm going to say I'm still against blue laws.

I have lived most of my life in the south which, surprisingly, is relatively free of blue laws. I have briefly lived and/or visited the northeast and was amazed at what I could and couldn't buy on certain days and what was or wasn't open. Boston TV stations seem to have made a tradition of reporting how if you need a stick of butter on Thanksgiving Day you have to drive to New Hampshire to get it.

I don't think a ban on Sunday fuel sales would deter driving. It would just mean long lines on Saturday night. A statewide blue law here would be unreasonable as I live in Texas. It was would effectively shutdown interstate travel across the southern tier as even a Prius couldn't cross from Louisiana to New Mexico on a tank of gas. Absolutely no one would stand for that and I tend to agree. Even a by county blue law could strand drivers who don't know where the next gas is available.

I was discussing with my wife I'm totally shocked stores haven't started opening on Christmas Day at noon to entice shoppers who received gift cards that morning. I really think that's the next step.

I think increased fuel prices would have more of an effect than a once-per-week ban on sales.
...definitely safer to keep this discussion centered on economics & the environment...

...potentially limiting activity, especially in the name of any religion seems rather segregationist in this day & age...

...we "just" (ha-ha) need to change the mindset in this intelligent appreciation of resources, capacities, utilization must be understood...a new awareness needs be taught... will happen, if we're ultimately to survive on this rock but how much of it will be implemented in our lifetime is the question..
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